Making Money on Terror
Four months after September 11, Osama bin Laden is on the run and the Pentagon is riding high. Our warmaker in chief, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has been described by the talking heads of cable TV as "a virtual rock star" and "a babe magnet for the 70-year-old set." More important, Rumsfeld's department has become a virtual money magnet, attracting $50 billion in spending increases since mid-September on the way to a budget that could hit $363 billion this year.
The bulk of these new funds have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The war in Afghanistan is costing $1 billion to $2 billion a month, but most of those expenses will be covered in a supplemental request that the Pentagon will forward to Congress later this year. Meanwhile, spending on systems that have actually proved useful in Afghanistan is lagging far behind expenditures for costly pet projects favored by the White House, key members of Congress, military bureaucrats and major weapons contractors.
For example, ballistic missile defense, a provocative program that has more to do with promoting unilateralist ideology than it does with defending the country, received a $2.5 billion increase in the budget approved by Congress in December. But spending on the unmanned aerial vehicles that have been a critical element of the air war in Afghanistan will increase by just one-tenth of that amount, or $250 million. And despite George W. Bush's campaign pledge to "skip a generation" of big-ticket systems to make way for a leaner, more mobile military force, not a single major weapons system has been canceled.
As a result of Bush's decision to give up the fight for Pentagon procurement reform, tens of billions will be squandered on systems like:
§ the F-22 fighter plane, which was designed to do battle with a next-generation Soviet fighter that was never built;
§ the ninety-ton Crusader artillery system, which is too cumbersome to transport to any of the likely battlefields of the future;
§ heavy combat ships like a next-generation destroyer and a new attack submarine that were meant to shadow Soviet war vessels now rusting in Russian ports.
Add to that Congressionally mandated boondoggles like a provision to spend $20 billion over the next ten years leasing unneeded aircraft from Boeing, and the dimensions of the wasteful spending being approved in the name of the war on terror begin to become apparent.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that more than two-thirds of the respondents expected the war on terrorism to diminish funding for other needed programs, but that more than half of those surveyed felt the sacrifice was worth it. That view would surely change if more people knew how much of the Pentagon's new largesse is serving the needs of special interests rather than the national interest.